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Chris Sale, Felix Hernandez, and the Road Not Taken

Usually every Felix Hernandez start against the White Sox makes me think of former-failed prospect Brian Anderson taking a young King Felix yard twice for his first two career home runs. Watching Anderson’s blonde mop bounce up and down as he grinned like a child while that damn foghorn sounded in the background of Safeco has somehow stuck with me for 12 years. But this season is different.

The Sox are fully embracing a rebuild for the first time in my lifetime. And while the White Flag Trade will forever live in infamy (and undeservedly so), no trade in franchise history has ever quite signified the admittance of giving up as trading Chris Sale to Boston did last winter. It was the right move for a team that had been treading water so long that the lactic acid was about to finally sink them, but it still stung like hell. Even in the lean times, you at least knew you were going to get to watch Sale, the most talented Sox pitcher since the Deadball Era, throw every fifth day. That always made things a little easier.

And it’s not like the team hadn’t tried to build contenders around him. They did. They traded for veterans and post-hype prospects. They grabbed pitchers off the scrapheap and signed lumbering sluggers and expensive closers and tried almost everything except drafting the young talent necessary to building a contender if you don’t have the willingness to spend like a top five payroll team, or spending as though they were in a contention window. And that was the major problem. The Sox were able to land what should have been a dominant core and was. But there was no support staff. Stars and scrubs doesn’t work. So Rick Hahn had to make the hard decision and trade away the likely 2017 Cy Young Award winner.

Which is the complete opposite decision the Seattle Mariners have made with Hernandez. Hernandez debuted to absurd and accurate fanfare as a 19-year-old phenom in 2005. Since then he’s won a Cy Young Award, thrown a perfect game, and pitched exactly 0.0 postseason innings. He was one of the most overpowering pitchers in the American League for more than a decade and put up a borderline Hall of Fame career, yet has only seen his teams finish above .500 four times in 13 seasons. The Mariners have made the same basic moves as the White Sox; trading for players to bolster the roster, signing aging sluggers, and drafting disappointing collegiate middle infielders. But every summer and every winter, the Mariners refused to trade their wunderkid in a move that would have easily brought back three to five top 100 prospects. King Felix is now old (well, 31), expensive, and less effective. The trade window is cemented shut and it looks like Seattle will extend their MLB-longest playoff drought to a 16th consecutive season.

There’s no guarantee that the prospects Chicago got back for Sale will pan out. Or the ones they got for Adam Eaton or most recently Jose Quintana. The White Sox haven’t made the playoffs since 2008 and won’t for the next season or two at least. But by biting the bullet and making the unpopular move, they’ve given themselves the chance at a brighter future that won’t involve sadly watching a franchise legend toil in obscurity.

Lead Photo Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

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